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Georgia county said it was too costly to spend $10,000 a year on health cover for trans employees. It spent $1.2 million fighting it, lost, and has to pay anyway.

March 20, 2023

  • A Georgia county refused to change a health plan to cover a trans employee’s surgeries, citing the cost.
  • The bill would have been about $10k a year for transition-related care for employees, per ProPublica.
  • The county spent nearly $1.2 million in legal fees fighting it in court, and lost.

Local Georgia officials refused to change a department’s health insurance plan to cover the gender-affirming surgery of a trans employee, citing cost as a reason.

But Georgia’s Houston County ended up paying a private law firm nearly $1.2 million to fight the employee in federal court, far more than the estimated $10,000 a year it would have cost to add transition-related care to the health plan, Propublica reported.

And this month a federal judge ordered it to cover transition care for its employees.

“It was a slap in the face, really, to find out how much they had spent,” Anna Lange, the sheriff’s deputy who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit, said.

“They’re treating it like a political issue, obviously, when it’s a medical issue,” she said.

Lange came out as a transgender woman to her colleagues in 2017, after working for the Houston County Sheriff’s Office for more than a decade, legal documents show. She wanted to go ahead with gender-affirming surgeries but found out that the county’s health plan had exclusions, meaning that it would not cover the cost of the procedures.

Lange was able to use retirement funds and savings to pay for top surgery in 2018, but could not afford to pay for bottom surgery,  which costs approximately $25,000, according to legal documents.

She sent letters to the insurance administrator and the county asking them to remove the health insurance plan exclusions in both 2018 and 2019, but her appeals were denied, ProPublica reported.

In early 2019, she went to the county board of commissioners’ meeting to ask it to remove the health plan’s exclusions.

The board said it would not make any changes, leading Lange to file a lawsuit against the country for employment discrimination.

Lange said the county, which describes itself as “Georgia’s most progressive county,” was subjecting her to “inferior treatment” by denying her medical care.

The county’s llawyers cited concerns about rising costs if the exclusion were to be removed, warning of a hypothetical situation in which an employee could seek multiple surgeries in one year. Houston County spent $57,135 on a budget expert to make the case, per ProPublica.

Lange’s attorneys, meanwhile, hired their own expert,  who said that including transition-related care in the health plan would add about 0.1 % to the cost of all claims — about $10,000 per year.

The amount is so small that in actuarial terms it could be considered “immaterial,” the expert said.

In total, Houston County spent $1,188,701 in direct payments to private law firms from the date the lawsuit was filed to December 31, 2022, ProPublica reported, citing billing records it obtained. The legal fees amounted to three times Houston County’s annual budget on physical and mental health, it said.

Houston County did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

After years of fighting in the courts, Lange won her case in 2022, with the federal judge citing a US Supreme Court ruling in 2020 against employment discrimination based on transgender status.

The county appealed, but this month a federal judge ordered Houston County to cover transition care for employees, and Lange is now starting the process of scheduling her surgery, per ProPublica.

YahooNews/Business Insider

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